Described on the website as ‘Five nights of velvet, glamour and guilt’. (http://www.roh.org.uk/whatson/production.aspx?pid=16001), it was indeed a plush, glam, old-fashioned night of entertainment with unadorned, reverberating singing, champagne and enormous velvet curtains. Balanced up in the slips, nestling under the roof of the venerable Royal Opera House, we couldn’t help but notice that the top curtain frills were heavy with dust – so there were limits to the perfection!We saw the first of Rufus Wainwright’s five night run, ‘House of Rufus’. The bill for this Monday evening, dull and overcast outside, bright and uplifting inside the theatre, was ‘Rufus does Judy’, a celebratory staging of Judy Garland’s 1961 comeback show at Carnegie Hall, described as the ‘greatest night in show business history’. Backed by the Britten Synfonia conducted by Stephen Oremus, contained and classical in black, Rufus was slender and sleek in sparkly shoes and matching belt buckle, topped off with a dashing pink shirt. With a captivating charm, he hosted the evening beautifully, cradling the audience in the palm of his hand. His powerful voice held the stacked tiers of listeners rapt as he skipped through a selection of Judy Garland’s oeuvre, songs that he clearly adores. I didn’t know too many of the songs myself, but the whole show biz style of a bygone era cast a comforting net of nostalgia over the evening. Due to share the bill later in the week, Rufus’s sister, Martha Wainwright, took to the stage a couple of times, awkwardly glamorous in a skin-tight leopardskin bodysuit and glittering jacket. Her singing was magnificent as she gave us a heartfelt rendition of ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’.
It was definitely aLondonnight to savour. During the interval we sipped our fizz on the terrace, braving the unseasonal nip in the air to take in a glimpse of this great city of ours:Covent Gardenmarket laid out before us, Nelson on his column peeking over the roofs, the Millennium Wheel majestic in the background. Back inside, the second half held the highlights for me. Rufus sat small and crouched on an amp at the front of the stage for his stunning performance of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. Starting off unaccompanied, his voice echoed in my gut and twined around my heart strings. In the dark theatre, a single spotlight dappled the underside of the roof’s dusky dome with lily pads of blue. Then in a rousing encore, Rufus stood in a half-moon of blood-red light and belted out ‘Chicago’. My evening in the House of Rufus will linger in my mind for a long time.
Hear an interview with Rufus Wainwright by the BBC here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-14108535
And hear his sing ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ (but not at the Royal Opera House) here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZhy9yUOhpA